William Voegeli, like most hyper-partisan right-wingers, makes the classical obvious mistake of mixing up social democracy, or democratic socialism or whatever you prefer, with liberalism. In Europe, Liberals, are considered right-wing. Why? Because Social Democrats and Democratic Socialists, are considered Center-Left there. In Canada of all places that constantly gets labeled as a social democracy, even though it has a federal system where the provinces and localities, have real power there, Liberals are considered centrists. Why? Because the social democratic New Democrats, are considered Center-Left or left-wing.
Voegeli, kept saying Liberals want more government and more spending and all the traditional Tea Party propaganda about what liberalism is supposed to be. Replace the name William Voegeli with Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin and you would get the same rhetoric. It’s supposed to be Socialists or Social Democrats, who are terrified of the socialist label (except for Bernie Sanders) who run for the hills every time they hear that label about them. So why are so-called Conservatives like Bill Voegeli afraid to use the s-word when talking about social democracy and socialism more broadly. Because they want to attach Liberals with every big government authoritarian ideology that comes down the pike. Even religious conservatism, whether its Islāmic or Christian. And they’ve been very successful at it at least since the late 1960s.
I’ll answer Bill Voegeli’s question in a couple of ways. The first way somewhat simplistic only because this is a simplistic question. And the second way in a more substantive way. The simple answer government is big enough only when it’s doing exactly what we need it to do. No more or no less, which is basically my definition of limited government. So when it’s doing too much, that’s called big government. When it’s doing too little, that would be called small government. Which is every Libertarian’s marijuana high or drunken fantasy.
The more substantive liberal answer is that you need government to protect, defend and promote.
Protect the people from predators, where law enforcement comes in. Defend the country from predators, which is where defense comes in, but foreign affairs and intelligence as well.
Promote freedom and the general welfare. And that doesn’t mean a welfare state, but protect everyone’s individual freedom and right to be free and live freely, short of hurting any innocent person intentionally or otherwise.
Assist people who need help and for whatever reasons get knocked off their feet. But only help them get by in the short-term as you’re also helping them get themselves up. Finding a job, job training, that sort of thing. Which is basically what the definition of a safety net is.
And then protect consumers and workers from predators that would hurt them in the economy. Not run business’s, but set basic rules again to protect workers and consumers. Which is what a regulatory state is.
Again, I know this sounds simplistic, but we’re dealing with a simplistic question and I’m really just correcting what Bill Voegeli said here anyway. Government is big enough only when it’s doing exactly what it should be doing and nothing more or less. You don’t need a big government managing people’s lives for them from either and economic or personal standpoint. But if you want government doing practically nothing and throwing caution to the wind, try living or visiting a stateless society that has practically no government. And see how long it is before you try to escape from that country.